The Impact of our Work

personal career 4 comments suggest edit

There was once a time I regretted not attending a school with a more rigorous engineering program. I would tell myself, I should have gone to an institution like Stanford which has a strong CS program and ties to the bay area tech scene. I’d be further ahead in my career hobnobbing with VCs showering me with champagne and hundred dollar bills.


To use the technical term, I was a fool.

When I look back at 2017, I’m particularly grateful for the strong liberal arts education I received at Occidental College, affectionately known as Oxy. Hey, if it was good enough for Obama, it’s good enough for me (Ok, Obama did transfer out, but work with me here.).

2017 shows us the impact of companies run by engineers who perhaps don’t have a strong basis in the lessons of history, sociology, and psychology - whether it be the utter Travisty of Uber’s year, Facebook’s tone deafness, or Twitter’s continued love affair with white supremacy.

This education doesn’t mean I’m somehow immune to these failing. It just provides me a lens to use when I question my own actions.

What gives me hope is the growing interest in these topics. More people realize that to build successful teams and companies, you can’t just focus on business strategy and engineering.

In 2017, I hosted a track at QCon London with the title “Softskills - Essential skills for developers”. I’m quick to note that these are actually the hard skills.

This was the most successful track I’ve hosted. One of the talks by Alex Qin made QCon’s top five presentations of the year. Another talk by Meri Williams was the highest rated of the conference with a perfect score!

It’s clear to me that there’s a strong need and demand for the lessons these wonderful speakers continue to share.

As you start off 2018 with a bright eyed bushy tailed sense of hope, it’s fine to be excited about learning new technology. Everyone’s talking about κυβερνήτης. Why is everyone interested in greek helmsmen all of a sudden? Find out!

At the same time, don’t forget to focus on the human aspect of our work. Focus on empathy, communication, and inclusion. Consider your own unconscious biases and how they seep into the product of your work. Think about the social consequences of your work.

Let’s make 2018 the year we’re more conscious of the impact of our work on others. Happy New Year!

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4 responses

  1. Avatar for Jeff P.
    Jeff P. January 1st, 2018

    Love this sentiment in every way. Having that broader lens means that you see beyond the small handful of valley unicorns and that the vast majority of impactful technology work happens literally everywhere else. I'm proud to work for a small startup in Orlando, and I know we're changing lives with our product. I don't need mystical credibility to feel good about the work.

  2. Avatar for Andrei Rînea
    Andrei Rînea January 2nd, 2018

    You really managed to stay non political up to this post..

  3. Avatar for Daragh Byrne
    Daragh Byrne January 21st, 2018

    Thanks for this. I've been writing code for around 28 years, 17 of those professionally. Ticked a lot of the boxes of success in all the roles - academia, investment banking, booming startups, leading and coaching teams and so on. Part way into my career I started wondering - "am I doing good? is what I'm doing actually useful for humanity, or at the very least, not causing damage?". The question nagged at me for years, until I eventually figured that "getting ahead" and dominating the world and being number one was less important than the quality of my day to day experience, and whether I could help to improve that quality for other humans - in all the ways, not just profit and convenience.

    It's hard to be a good human, which is why so many of us put that consideration to one side in favour of just being the best at X. I think my broader lens stems from my original education as a physicist, where I was trained to think about the very big picture (the entire universe) from the beginning. Is there something about a CS education that narrows minds? (genuine question)

    I build websites for dentists and other small businesses these days. A far cry from the "big data before there was big data" stuff I used to do. But I'm generally, genuinely useful as a result, with what I feel to be a minimal social cost. I work on some other bigger picture, wellbeing oriented stuff in my spare time.

    How conscious in general are developers "of the impact of our work on others"?

  4. Avatar for Susan T
    Susan T March 19th, 2018

    I also went to a small liberal arts school and am currently working as a software engineer. I find that getting others who have more technical focus to even entertain the idea of a more human, wholistic team approach to anything will result in better quality code and more productive employees is challenging. You are very right in saying that these "Soft skills" are actually very hard! I think that is why many people ignore them. New tech and code is easy to learn. It has rules and is logical. People are harder and require constant self and team evaluation and a lot of time. And hey, if it ain't broke...